Andrea Bargnani was out again with a sore knee, as was Sonny Weems with back spasms. Amir Johnson played, and played well, but left the game a couple of times to get his sore lower back stretched out.
Still, the Raptors fought back time and again against the explosive Lakers, promoting L.A. coach Phil Jackson to dish some love Jay Triano’s way.
“Jay had a lot of things going,” said Jackson, following the Lakers’ 120-110 victory. “We’d get going and he’d throw a zone out there to slow us down. They did some things to create a conflict for us.
“We established control four times in the game,” Jackson continued, “and they were trying to come back even at the end of the game by hitting a couple of threes. They kept fighting in there.”
The Raptors fell behind by eight at the half (57-49) and then by 16 early in the third, but fought back to within five four minutes later.
Toronto then found themselves behind by 15 early in the fourth and clawed back to get within six four minutes after that on a Linas Kleiza three-pointer, with 6:28 left in the game. Again the Lakers went on a roll, pushing that lead up to 12 with three minutes remaining and the Raps cut that to 114-107 on Kleiza five foot fade away shot.
Still, Raptors head coach Jay Triano was proud of his undermanned squad.
“It’s not effort or anything else, I thought our guys played really hard and I think for the most part they played really well,” Triano said. “I think we could have beat a lot of teams today, but not these guys.”
Superstar Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 20 points in just 28 minutes, Gasol added 19.
Bryant also had praise for the Raptors.
“They always play us really well,” Bryant said.
The Raptors surprised Hollywood’s finest by going up 34-28 after an inspired first quarter, but allowed L.A. to go on 12-3 and 11-3 runs to start the next two quarters.
“They’re just a smart team, they executed (early in quarters) but we fought back,” said Raptors point guard Jose Calderon, excellent in a 20-point, 12-assist performance despite a foot injury that caused him to limp noticeably after the game.
Triano said Calderon and Amir Johnson — who had back spasms — showed their heart by taking to the court.
“(Johnson) and Jose, it’s questionable if they should have even played, but I thought they were two of our better players,” Triano said.
The Raptors, to their credit, refused to fade away and battled back within three of the Lakers at one point in the third.
Sophomore shooting guard DeMar DeRozan was the spark for Toronto. Playing against his hometown Lakers, DeRozan went off for 19 points in the quarter and Leandro Barbosa banked in a three from half-court to cut the deficit to seven entering the fourth.
But yet another early-quarter surge by the Lakers finally sunk the Raptors. L.A. scored 13 of the final quarter’s first 20 points — without Bryant, who was rested liberally by head coach Phil Jackson after being questionable for the game with a pinkie injury.
Amir Johnson hobbled from one private enclave in the Raptors locker room and back again and it was as painful to watch as it must have been to do.
He was shuffling along like someone three times his age, his back bad, his body sore, the effects of playing 35 minutes of physical NBA basketball having obviously taken their toll on a guy already banged up.
When he returned to the back room, he would have seen Jose Calderon up on the trainers’ table, his foot sore, his ankle a bit achy, getting treatment for what ails him.
And while both would have been miserable that the Raptors had just dropped a 120-110 decision to the Los Angeles Lakers at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday, the fact they both played — and played well — was the silver lining on an otherwise dreary day.
“He and Jose, it’s questionable if they should have even played,” said coach Jay Triano. “I mean, his (Johnson’s) back is in spasms and Jose’s foot is bad but I thought they were two of our better players. They found a way to have very good games and they played a lot of minutes, both of them.”
The Raptors led 34-28 after the first quarter, but lost their advantage in a poorly executed second quarter, from which they never truly recovered.
Their biggest problem came on the boards: the bigger, stronger Laker bigs out-rebounded the Raptors 46-35, with Amir Johnson, rookie Ed Davis, and Joey Dorsey contributing just 13 rebounds between them. Linas Kleiza added 10 of his own, along with 26 points, building on his previous strong performance on Wednesday.
Johnson led the Raptors’ in the first quarter with 12 points on six for six shooting, but petered out later on, perhaps because his lower back was bothering him. Jose Calderon, whose foot continues to bother him, contributed 20 points and 12 assists.
Raptors coach Jay Triano commended both for soldiering through their own aches and pains. “It’s questionable whether they should have played,” he said.
DeMar DeRozan added 23 points, including a 19-point third-quarter.
There is just a different sound in the air of any NBA arena when Bryant is in the house. The 82-game season can feel like a slog on occasion, but any appearance by Bryant will break you out of those doldrums. Almost every time he touches the ball, cheers and boos build to a dead heat. A Bryant crossover dribble can elicit three times the noise that the same move from, oh, DeMar DeRozan might draw.
Bryant gave the first sellout crowd of the year game’s worth of entertainment in the first quarter alone. First came the crossover-dribble-and-runner combination; next, a spin to the baseline for a dunk; finally, Bryant took it baseline, deftly avoided a shot blocker, and hit a reverse layup, using significant spin to put the ball in the hoop. On all three moves, DeRozan, who used to go to Bryant’s basketball camp as a kid, was the primary victim.
“We were just playing. I love DeMar,” Bryant said. “I’ve known him for a long time, since he’s been coming to my camps, things like that. It was nothing personal.”
Nothing personal, but just plain mean nonetheless.
The Lakers started and finished strong enough and in between their substitutes pummeled their Toronto counterparts 57-27, providing a spark whenever the Raptors made a run. Three starters and three backups scored in double figures.
"I was very pleased with the bench and how they performed in both the second and third quarters," Jackson said after the Lakers improved to 21-7. "They bailed out the starters with a significant amount of minutes."
Kobe Bryant scored 20 points, Pau Gasol added 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists and Lamar Odom scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a team-leading 33 minutes, 34 seconds. None of the other starters played more than 31 minutes.
Odom played despite feeling ill.
Andrew Bynum led the second unit’s surge with 16 points and seven rebounds in his fourth game since returning from a 24-game absence after undergoing offseason right knee surgery. He made 4 of 6 shots and 8 of 10 free throws.
Shannon Brown scored 14 points and Matt Barnes had 12.
"Matt obviously is playing great basketball right now," Bynum said. "He’s in the triangle and he’s really developing his game. He’s always had the ability to shoot three’s, but now he’s using the triangle and making cuts and getting in there and getting rebounds.
"Shannon has been playing great and Steve is setting us up."
In Canada, they spell some words a bit differently than we do here in the States. Like Brits and Australians, they spell words like offense and defense with a "c" instead of an "s." Well, they might as well spell defence like this: n-o-n-e. The Raptors’ D is extinct, much like their namesakes. I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite, the Lakers didn’t play much defenSe either, but I suppose I can give them a pass. This game was the last of an 11-day, 7-game road trip. Of course they were a little tired. They gave up 110 points in a game they won kind of handily. That should tell you how bad the Raps are on that end. (Okay, okay… Clips "road" games don’t count. 9-day, 6-game road trip. Happy now?)
Usually, games like this might end up being one of those in which the home team lingers around, makes a late push, then the next thing you know we’re left reading recaps about losing momentum on an otherwise great road trip. If this were last year’s team, that may have happened. The "Bench Mob" were known to lose a lead or ten. This year? Our Killer B’s bench puts away games just as well as our starters do.
The Raptors were not without any fight in this game. Despite having only nine players dressed to participate, Toronto still challenged the defending Champs with the occasional run at a big deficit. In the first quarter, Amir Johnson went 6-6 for 12 points, but scored only two more the rest of the game. USC product, Demar DeRozan scored 19 of his 23 points in the third quarter alone, and Linas Kleiza (26 points) and Jose Calderon (20 points) contributed the remainder of the scoring bulk. However, it wasn’t enough.
Kobe Bryant put in 20 of his own points on 6-12, as he played through a sprained right pinkie, choosing to find his way to the hoop, often at the expense of DeRozan, to score. Pau Gasol poured in 19 points on 9-15. The starters did what they had to do and gave the reserves huge chunk of responsibility to handle the rest. It’s nice to have true bench to rely on.
Jay Triano has to be encouraged by his team’s effort in stepping up offensively in place of Bargnani. The starting backcourt of Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan combined for 43 points, while Linas Kleiza had a game-high 26 points (who would have had Kleiza for the game-high here?) and added 10 boards for his second straight double-double… Johnson’s standout first quarter of 12 points on 6-6 shooting with no fouls while playing all 12 minutes was impressive, but he paid for it later with back woes flaring up. The Raps can ill afford more injury issues to an already depleted front line … If the Raptors could have come to terms with Matt Barnes, as they nearly did, this off-season, he would not only be their starting small forward (no disrespect to Kleiza), but would play the crucial role of defensive stopper for the club … Out of the two teams in action, why was it the two-time defending champions with five guys still on the floor during shoot-around 10 minutes after all the Raptors had retreated to the dressing room?